Mar 3, 2009

Restoring morality in Faraz's Pakistan

By Mosharraf Zaidi
Pakistanis hoping for uplifting and positive stories in the newspapers should strap up and get real. The life and times of the Islamic Republic are not a Danny Boyle film. Life offers no redemption for a nation that berates its heroes with contemptuous neglect, and showers adulation and protocol on rubber stamp pygmies that inhabit the nodes where power converges. February 25th marked six months since Ahmed Faraz, a giant among Pakistani heroes, passed away. In six months, the PPP government has failed to name a single road after the greatest Urdu poet since Faiz. It has failed to establish a single Ahmed Faraz endowed chair for literature at a single university. It has failed to open a single Ahmed Faraz library. It has failed to dedicate a single existing government school, or college to the memory of Ahmed Faraz. These are far from trivial matters. There is no more urgent a task in Pakistan, than the honouring of Pakistani heroes and the crushing of false idols. Pakistan's treatment of its heroes is not simply a case of a generic failure to do justice to the services and sacrifices of its most valuable sons and daughters. It is in fact a case of wilful and contemptuous neglect. Why does the PPP government do nothing to honour Faraz? That's easy. To do so would require the President House and the prime minister's secretariat to boom resoundingly with the sounds of Faraz's greatest hits. And for that to happen, the superstar advisors that populate Pakistan's schizophrenic cabinet (democratic-dictatorial), would have to listen to poetry that mocks them. Nobody likes to be mocked. Faraz's heroism is that he spoke truth to power as he lived, and the truth he spoke outlives him, and mocks power even as he has moved on to a hopefully happier and more truthful place. The systematic dismantling of Pakistani heroism is among the Pakistani elites' most critical and important projects. By replacing real heroes with paper kittens, Pakistan's elite not only assuage their fragile and emaciated egos, but they also sustain the mistruths and travesties that enable their vice-like grip on power to sustain itself inter-generationally. Those among the international community that have a sincere interest in friendly relations with Pakistan, and a sincere warmth for the people of this unfortunate country cannot be blamed for their ignorance. If the best that Pakistan has to offer to the world is the heroism of Sherry Rehman or Hussain Haqqani, rather than that of Razia Bhatti's then that is Pakistan's problem, not the IRI's or Bruce Reidel's. Three very important new written pieces of work suggest quite rightly, that Pakistan's appetite for destruction does not only hurt Pakistan. It hurts the South Asia region, and the wider world at large. The first of these is the Atlantic Council's report, titled "Needed: A Comprehensive U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan" is a 44 page report detailing the urgency with which the US must act in Pakistan to prevent state failure. The report was authored by a number of credible analysts, lead by Shuja Nawaz, and included counter-terror expert Mansoor Ijaz and former Afghanistan Finance Minister, Ashraf Ghani. The report calls for the urgent passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill ($1.5 billion each year for 5 years, and possibly to be extended to a ten year term), and an additional $4 billion to $5 billion on top of the bill to support urgent reform of the economy, and internal security (meaning both paramilitary and police). The second of these is Steve Coll's almost 10,000 word story in The New Yorker this week, titled "The Back Channel". In it, Coll traces the non-traditional measures pursued by both India and Pakistan, in pursuit of a lasting peace in South Asia, through a resolution of the Kashmir issue. The most obvious message of Coll's expertly crafted story is that despite the urgency that the issue demands, neither the government in India, nor the one in Pakistan are in a position to sell the kinds of compromises that would be required to reach an agreement in the present political climate in either country. The third is the Washington Post editorial of Monday, March 02, 2009 titled "Pakistan's Peril". The Post editors basically rubbish the theory that the Swat peace deal can solve the problem of a growing insurgency by the Taliban. They endorse the continuation of Predator drones dropping missiles on Pakistani soil, and they argue for the pre-qualification of American aid to Pakistan, to the country's performance in prosecuting the war on terror. Bereft of real heroes, and depending instead on the cadre of superstar advisors assembled by President Zardari, Pakistan is more than knee-deep in a puddle of trouble. The Atlantic Council report is quite brazen in its optimism that the "good news is that aid and support in terms of money, technical assistance and equipment can help turn these crises around quickly". No honest person would wish the Council to have gotten this wrong. But they have. Desperately wrong. Pakistan's troubles cannot be fixed with money alone. Coll's article is a depressing reminder of this fact. Implicitly, Coll's lamenting of the discontinued back channel for peace in South Asia is an expression of longing for a Pakistan in which a single man can make bold decisions. By illustrating in great detail how close Gen Musharraf and his chosen India emissary, Tariq Aziz, had brought Pakistan to a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, Coll seduces the reader into the false sense of security about the recent past as good times for Pakistan, about Tariq Aziz as a great servant to Pakistani diplomacy, and about Musharraf as a Pakistani hero. The Washington Post editorial in turn is evidence to the contrary. Musharraf's repeated deal-making with the terrorists was a failed policy of a state unwilling to face the demons it created with its bare hands. Now that the terrorists have essentially taken over the tribal areas of Pakistan--through a dual-fisted policy of eliminating the local elite by killing entire swathes of Maliks in the region first, and offering a more functional and fair system of governance second--the Musharraf approach of appeasement is not in fact a choice, it is a compulsion. The Post recognizes the vice-like death grip that Pakistan finds itself in, but for all its bleeding heart liberalism, can't find the political sense, and human instinct to consider the damage that the missile strikes are doing to the project of winning back FATA, Swat and the country at large. Faraz has been dead for six months, but he has left behind a legacy that will last much longer than the manufactured heroism of press conferences and on the coattails of real martyrs. American think tanks, experts and newspapers are now united in their embrace of the fierce urgency of Pakistan. But the starting point for real change in Pakistan is not money. It is heroism. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is not the greatest jurist in the world. He is not the most impressive either. But he is the moral fibre of a country that has killed, denied, denigrated and destroyed its heroes consistently for over sixty years. He is no Faraz, but he has the moral fibre that Faraz helped personify through his words. The Atlantic Council, Steve Coll and the Washington Post are spot on about one thing. Pakistan's problems are not Pakistan's alone. They are only wrong about the origin of these problems. It is not financial, or diplomatic, or ideological. It is moral. There can be no change in Pakistan without the restoration of the judiciary. No amount of money, or Predator drones can do for Pakistan and for the world, what the reinstatement of Pakistan's morality can. The restoration of Pakistan's judiciary and the repeal of dictatorial powers for the President are not internal matters for Pakistan. They are the seeds of an existential crisis that has the potential to upend India's ascension as a global power, the potential to derail whatever success 17,000 additional troops might hope to achieve in Afghanistan, and the potential to flush billions of dollars of American taxpayer money into the black hole where so much else resides. Pakistanis cannot take any conversation about their country seriously, without the restoration of the judiciary at its core. It is time for the rest of the world to get on board.

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